Hill confident title race is still ‘wide open’

Date published: June 16 2022 - Jamie Woodhouse

Charles Leclerc climbs out of the Ferrari cockpit. Azerbaijan, June 2022.

Damon Hill, the 1996 F1 champion, is confident the race for the 2022 titles is far from over despite recent costly issues for Ferrari.

When Charles Leclerc was forced to retire from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix due to a power unit failure, it marked the second time in three races he had met that fate while leading a race.

And after building up an early lead in the Drivers’ standings, it means he now instead trails Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 34 points.

The Constructors’ Championship, meanwhile, makes very grim reading for Ferrari. Red Bull took every point on offer in Azerbaijan, Ferrari scoring zero as Carlos Sainz had retired before Leclerc with a hydraulic problem, allowing Red Bull to create an 80-point gap over Ferrari.

But although the situation is starting to look somewhat bleak for Ferrari, Hill firmly believes the Scuderia are still in the fight.

“It must be immensely frustrating, but the championship is still wide open,” Hill told Sky Sports F1.

“It was a terrible day for them but I don’t think it’s a disaster. It’s too early to start talking about that. And Red Bull have had problems as well.”

Charles Leclerc looks on disappointed. Baku, June 2022.

There is no doubt though that Ferrari’s power unit problems are a major concern, having now eliminated Leclerc from the Spanish and Azerbaijan GPs which he was leading.

Due to the engine freeze, performance-related development is now no longer permitted, only changes on reliability grounds, so former F1 driver Johnny Herbert says it is now crucial Ferrari get on top of this issue with a “big headache” already waiting later this season.

Leclerc is now on the brink of engine penalties with a 10-place grid drop looming once he goes beyond a permitted power unit element.

“I think that’s definitely the issue they had in Barcelona as well,” said Herbert of Leclerc’s Azerbaijan engine failure.

“It’s how you delve into all those mashed-up bits and try to find what the issue is because it will be a big headache for them in the latter part of the season as that’s when you need the power to be strong.”

Herbert explained the power unit issues will be even more frustrating for Leclerc as poor reliability has become less common in Formula 1 over the years.

“For the championship, it’s a total disaster,” he said. “It’s something you don’t probably expect to see in Formula 1, the modern sort of era we’ve got.

“And I think that’s where we saw the mechanical issue they had in Barcelona, now we’ve had another that looks like an engine failure. So it will be a really tough time for them to be able to get everything back on track because they have to do it quick, and we thought it had to be done [in Azerbaijan].”

 

 

Leclerc understandably was downbeat after his Azerbaijan retirement, another major blow to his title aspirations.

But Herbert says the Monegasque driver must remain confident because he is driving well, so if Ferrari solve their problems he is proving he will be right there at the front.

Asked how Leclerc can cope with these recent setbacks, Herbert replied: “The only way you can cope with it is know you did a good performance.

“We know it’s brilliant what he did in qualifying [in Azerbaijan] and he was racing well, so he knows he’s driving brilliantly at the present time.

“So once they get everything sorted and fixed, so they don’t have these failures, as a driver you’ll be able to deliver the job quickly.”